Most of what I treasure about the superhero genre are the symbolic meanings and mythological wisdom embedded within it. And while I love comic books and comic-related material, there’s definitely no mistaking them for anything resembling realism. This goes even for something as dark and somber as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight film trilogy.
But, as we know, life loves to imitate art and sometimes the lines between fantasy and reality can be blurred to surreal effects.
The Rain City Superhero Movement (RCSM) is an organization of citizens based in Seattle who patrol the streets as a neighborhood crime patrol. There’s nothing new or different about this in itself. Many neighborhoods have citizen-led crime watches. But the role of citizen-based crime watches that work in cooperation with local law enforcement is normally limited to witnessing and reporting.
The RCSM are different, first of all, in that they actually intervene in crimes in progress, not just witness and report. So far this intervention has mostly been of a preventive nature: thwarting a group of muggers from robbing a blind man, stopping a man from drunk driving, preventing a bus from being jacked, etc.
The second unique thing about the RCSM is that they wear costumes, inspired by and modeled after – you got it – superheroes. And they have aliases to match like the Green Reaper, The Mantis, Gemini, and No Name.
The nominal leader of the group is Phoenix Jones who began his crime-watching activities after he himself became a victim to a crime and then later also witnessed his friend being assaulted outside a bar. Just like in a Daredevil or Batman comic.
Now, we could get into a whole discussion here about whether a neighborhood watch organization wearing costumes and adopting superhero names is a clever, publicity-shrewd appropriation of pop cultural semantics or just taking comic book symbolism a little too literally. Personally, I’m prepared to make arguments for both viewpoints, but let’s focus for now on the group’s crime-prevention activities.
Their activities have so far been legit, legit enough so that although the RCSM has had an occasionally tense relationship with the Seattle Police Department (Jones was once arrested and promptly released), there have been no major problems. Nothing like the vigilante persecution that we see in the Spider-Man or Batman comics and movies. The police, nevertheless, have publicly stated that they would rather that the RCSM stick with observing and calling 9-1-1 rather than put themselves in potential danger or cause a PR mess.
This relationship could become more ambivalent, however, with a recent incident involving Jones in which the situation quickly went from neighborhood watch to something out of The Dark Knight Rises. Although all the members have martial arts or military backgrounds, to their credit they had evaded direct physical violence by backing off, running away or warding off potential aggressors with the threat of pepper spray or stun batons. Until just recently.
In the early morning hours of Nov. 9, Jones and a couple of his cohorts had broken up a potentially violent altercation and had called the police when a group of men involved in the altercation begin following and taunting them. It appears that Jones and his friends, after waiting for the police to arrive, try to walk away and repeatedly ask the men to do the same. But the men persist in their taunting and threats even after the police have arrived.
Perhaps having reached his threshold of verbal abuse, Jones then invokes a clause from Washington-state law that states that two consenting adults may legally engage in an unarmed fight which ends the moment one combatant goes down. And he asks his verbal aggressor if he’d like to engage in such a match. Yes, it appears to be a real law and as can be seen in this video, the police even stand by and let it go down.
Now I’ll admit it’s gratifying to watch an obnoxious punk get what he asked for, but this latest incident does raise some important questions. Legally legitimate or not, by even making the offer to fight, was Jones overstepping an already tenuous line? Those officers might have allowed the fight but what would their superiors or the PR Department think?
Jones speaks for himself here in his own blog post about the incident.
An even broader question that is being debated among citizens in Seattle and beyond is this: Is the self-proclaimed real-life superhero Phoenix Jones providing a genuine community service or is he a well-intentioned but misguided cosplayer at best? Is he a good or dangerous influence to children who look up to costumed superheroes?
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